Think you’ve heard it all? Dealing with translators

After having read Catherine’s post on I-would-not-work-with-them-again types of PMs, I thought I could add to the story by sharing from my experience as a PM. The truth is that, after having worked for a few years as a translator and interpreter myself, and having come across all sorts of PMs, when I started my own agency and had to do project management, I already knew what to do and what NOT to do when dealing with translators. After all, they are the heart and soul of my business.

While most of the people I deal with are really nice and reliable, I have come across a few that are less pleasant to work with. As I mentioned in a comment to Catherine’s article, there was this very rude translator who sent a translator’s report full of capital letters and exclamation marks (she was obviously yelling at us), not to mention words that could only be rendered in writing by replacing letters with “*”.

Here are a few more:

  • Inconsistency:

A translation from English into Arabic in which the dates appeared in different formats throughout the document (e.g. 5.12.2000 and 5thDecember 2000). I emailed the translator and she replied (very defensively) that 5.12.2000 would not mean a lot for an Arabic speaker, while 5th December would. Fair enough, I was not challenging that since I don’t speak Arabic, all I was asking for was some consistency.

After complaining that she will skip lunch in order to make the changes (albeit it was quite a short document), she sent it back with all the dates in the format she had said it made no sense for Arabic speakers (!!!)

  • Formatting

I am aware that Word documents are preferred over PDFs. But if that’s what the client sends, that is what we have to work with. I would never expect a translator working from a PDF to come up with the exact formatting, especially if there are drawings/shapes etc. But I would expect to be able to understand which bit is which without knowing the language. Right? Wrong!

A translation from English into French. Started checking. All was going really well, until I reached the last three pages. Seriously, my eyes hurt and my heart jumped. Imagine random bits of text spread out over three pages – a little text here, a little there, bits of text everywhere!

In the original document, that was a table containing some shapes with text. As I said, I would not have expected the translator to spend a lot of time re-creating the exact shapes, but drawing a table and writing the text there in the order the shapes appeared on the text would have been nice. Or inserting comments, or a key… anything but what he had done (he had clearly used OCR, although the instructions on the PO said not to, not to mention he had not checked his work to see the end result).

I sent it back only to be told he will charge extra for doing what he was supposed to do in the first place. I then (as a proper computer geek that I am) recreated the table and drawings and asked him to at least place the text in the correct places. He refused. Luckily I speak French (yes, also a language geek), so I was able to do it for him. He agreed at least to check and said it was perfect!

  • Technicality

We had this translator that half way through the project decided the translation was too technical and could not do it. We had obviously sent her the document beforehand so she could have a look.

  • Questions

Can you ask the client if this is correct? We actually had one translator who emailed us this question. Needless to say the client did not speak the language, that’s why he had wanted a translator in the first place.

  • Comments

We all know that leaving comments helps. But leaving comments in the target language that neither the PM nor the client speaks?

But, as I said, these are exceptions, fortunately. There are plenty of translators and interpreters out there who are nice and a pleasure to work with. Just as there are PMs.


Alina CincanAlina Cincan


The Effects of Cultural Differences on Global Business

by – SEPTEMBER, 26 2018

More businesses are entering the global market. It is vital for businesses to understand that cultural differences can affect how they perform in the local markets they are targeting. One of the first things to consider is communication because bridging the language gap is extremely important in business talks.

Cross-cultural challenges

As you learn more about cultural differences, you will encounter several more concepts, such as low-context and high-context cultures. In low-context cultures like the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, communication is explicit and clear while in a high-context culture like Russia, communication is nuanced and implicit and there is more shared content. However, the opposite happens when negative feedback is to be given. Russia becomes direct, while low-context cultures tend to be indirect when negative feedback is called for.

Building trust is another challenge for businesses. The concept may be relationship-based or task-based. When doing business in China, for example, one of the ways to build good relationships involves spending time together at the dining table (drinking and eating). It is akin to building a strong network where gaining trust opens a path to success as cultural differences are set aside. The Chinese call this type of relationship ‘guanxi.’ In the United States, however, people tend not to have drinks with potential business partners often, unless necessary, so they can avoid embarrassing situations.

Another factor that affects trust building is the comfort of silence. In some countries, a few seconds of silence make the conversation uncomfortable. This happens in countries where the comfort of silence is low, such as in France, Italy and the United States. In Asian countries like Korea, Indonesia and Japan, however, the comfort of silence is high, which often results in Asians not being able to speak often during business meetings with people from Western countries. Asians are not likely to feel uncomfortable if the conversation stops for as long as 30 seconds.

Business executives should learn that cultural sensitivity is essential when engaging in cross-cultural business. Never look at cultural differences as weaknesses. Instead, respect cultural differences to gain success.

Gaining benefits from cultural differences

Accepting cultural differences provides you with a wide range of business expertise and gives you novel business insights to overcome business-related problems. It’s your way to cope with potential barriers regarding international business and culture.

It is vital for a global company to understand that there is a difference in the definition of culture per se and culture in relation to the context of international business. Culture is typically defined as a group of common and accepted standards shared by a specific society. When you put it in international business context, what one society considers as professional may be different for another foreign society.

You have to understand that cultural differences affect global business in three primary areas – organizational hierarchy, etiquette, and communication. Understanding them and recognizing their effects on your business will prevent you from creating misunderstandings with foreign clients and colleagues.

  1. Communication

Effective communication is vital to business success, whether you are a start-up or a big corporation. Although it is common to hear that English is the language of business, do not ever assume that you will be able to come across your foreign counterparts by using or speaking English.

When you venture into the international business arena, one way of bridging the cultural differences is through language. Understand the language your target market speaks and know how you use it to convey your message. In India for example, business professionals typically communicate in nuanced and indirect ways. This is opposite to the Finns who tend to be direct and brief in their communication.

Aside from the verbal communication, it is essential to learn that non-verbal communication is also extremely important when dealing with international businesses.

  1. Interactions

Gestures that are commonplace in your own country, like kissing people you meet on the cheek, making eye to eye contact and shaking hands firmly, may be taken as offensive or unusual by your foreign clients or business partners. As many business coaches will tell you, it is critical for you to remember the proper professional interactions when dealing with different cultures. Doing research on accepted and proper business etiquette is important. In some cases, you need to be extra observant of body language and at times, it is better to ask than commit a cultural faux pas.

  1. Etiquette in the workplace

When you are working for a multinational company, you are likely to encounter many differences, which prompt you to learn international business etiquette.

Put high importance on the formality of address when dealing with foreign business partners and colleagues. In some cultures, it is all right to address a person you’ve recently met by their first name, while in other countries, they would rather that you address them by their surname or their title. Canadians and Americans often use first names, even when dealing with new acquaintances. But in many Asian countries, such as Singapore, China and South Korea, you should always address a person formally by adding Mr. or Ms. before their surname. If you are in doubt, use the formal way of address.

Punctuality is something that is relative. When you deal with business partners, clients or colleagues from the United States, South Korea, Japan and Russia, you are expected to be on time. In Germany, you are even expected to be at least 10 minutes early for your appointment. In Greece, they expect foreigners to arrive on time but just like in Russia, you may expect your counterpart to arrive slightly late. Brazil is ambivalent. They could either be late by a few or several minutes unless you indicate that they follow the English time, meaning they should arrive at the agreed time.

In Malaysia, expect to wait up to an hour if your counterpart will be about five minutes late. They are not required to give an explanation, either. In China, it is acceptable to be at least 10 minutes late while in Mexico, it is quite normal for people to be late by 30 minutes for a business meeting. When doing business in Nigeria or Ghana, the appointed hour for the meeting may be one hour late or within the day. In Morocco, personal meetings could be delayed by an hour and in some cases, a day. When scheduling meetings in India, understand that being punctual is not one of their ways.

  1. Hierarchy in the organization

Cultural norms dictate how attitudes towards management and organizational hierarchy are perceived. In some cultures, junior staff and people in middle management may or may not be allowed to speak up during meetings. In some countries, it is difficult to question decisions by senior officers or express opinions that are different from the rest.

Attitudes are dependent on social equality or the societal values of a country. In some countries such as Japan and South Korea where respect for elders and people in positions of authority is deeply ingrained in the members of society, the concept is applied to the workplace as well. It helps in defining responsibilities and roles in the company and those holding positions in senior management expect deference from junior staff and a higher level of formality and respect.

However, the situation is different in Scandinavian countries. In Norway for example, societal equality is emphasized so the organizational hierarchy tends to be flat. The workplace environment calls for cooperation across all departments and informal communication is prevalent.

Differences in negotiating styles

Negotiation is a principal component of international business. Culture influences the way people behave, communicate and think. These characteristics are reflected in the way they negotiate. It is crucial for businesses to understand cultural differences during business transactions and find ways to hurdle the barriers these differences present.

Spanish speakers view negotiation as the means to have a contract, while in some Asian countries, negotiations are taken as the way to build stronger and firmer business relationships. The Japanese regard negotiation as a win-win process while the Spanish look at it as a win-lose process.

The way one communicates during negotiations should be carefully considered. Israelis and Americas are very direct, so you immediately know if the transaction is approved or not. The Japanese, however, tend to be indirect. You have to read and carefully interpret vague signs to know if they rejected or accepted your proposal.

Some cultures are very emotional like the Latin Americans. Most Asians, on the other hand, have a tendency to suppress their emotions and keep things formal.

Even the way different cultures handle contracts vary. Americans like to have every detail included in the contract because they want to anticipate possible eventualities and circumstances. The deal equates to a contract, therefore everything that was discussed and accepted during the negotiation should be specified in the contract. The Chinese, on the other hand, prefer a contract to have the general principles only, because for them, sealing a deal means forming a relationship with the business partner.

Remain competitive and successful in the global market

Cultural differences are sensitive issues and those who take the time to address these differences will have a better chance of remaining competitive and successful in the international business environment.

Businesses preparing to enter the global market have to diligently learn how cultural differences can affect their conduct of business in different markets. Their performance depends on understanding cultural diversity and that different markets have their own set of priorities, preferences and expectations. Day Translations, Inc. can help you navigate the complexities of cultural differences through localization.

Our translators live in-country, thus they have insider knowledge of specific cultures. They are also native speakers, assuring you that every nuance of the language is properly incorporated in the localization process. We share our wide experience and long-term expertise in translation and localization to ensure that your business can truly respond to the needs of your target markets. For your translation and localization requirements, you can send us an email at Contact us or call us at 1-800-969-6853 anytime night or day. We are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, to quickly respond to your linguistic needs.

Image Copyright: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

Freelancing with baby: the first year

This is a guest post by Rachel Sinn, a Spanish to English medical and pharmaceutical translator based in Colorado. I asked Rachel to write a post on her experiences managing her freelance business since giving birth to her first baby eight months ago. Specifically, Rachel has managed to juggle motherhood and freelancing while using little to no non-family child care. I get lots of requests from freelancing moms looking for real-life information, so I think you’ll enjoy this!

“So what are you guys going to do about child care?”

My friend smiled politely as my husband and I gave conflicting and somewhat vague accounts of our child care plans, because we hadn’t thought about it much. I was about five months pregnant. Later that night, that well-meaning question from a friend making small talk became a sleep-killing monster. What were we going to do about child care?

Of all the language-related trades, I chose translation at the tender age of 22 because I wanted to stay home with my future kids. At 30, with my first child kicking me on a daily basis, and with five years of translation work under my belt, I suddenly realized that it wasn’t going to be that easy. Cue several days weeks of panicked googling and calling around, only to encounter the dreaded daycare waitlist over and over again (30 months???).

After discouraging searches through hundreds of profiles on, endless daycare calls, and long talks, we decided to wing it. And I’m happy to say that I am still at home with my now eight-month-old daughter, and working close to full time. It has required a little creativity, and a reexamination of how we do life, but it’s possible and even enjoyable. Here are a few ideas if you’re looking to do the same.

Take a maternity leave
Childbirth is hard. Sleep deprivation is harder. As full-time employees, many women have the option to take 12 weeks of FMLA leave. I decided to give myself that amount of time as well. I notified all of my clients several months ahead of time, periodically reminded them nearer to the due date, and did so again the month of the due date. I also stopped taking projects with long deadlines the month of the due date. I took same day or next-day turnaround projects only (the opposite of what I did after my daughter was born!). I have two kinds of clients: giant translation agencies with hundreds of project managers and smaller, independent companies where I’ve been working with the same people for years. The former didn’t notice I was gone, and I had a good enough rapport with the latter that they happily congratulated me and told me to email them when I returned.

Ease back into it
When I decided I was ready to start working again, almost exactly three months later, I had to strategize how to do it. What worked for me was to “go back to work” for my best clients, a select few with whom I had a great relationship. You could call them my “A” clients. Great deadlines, interesting work, on-time payment, etc. Great deadlines were the key to the whole thing. I knew my schedule would be completely erratic for the foreseeable future (teething, sleep regressions, growth spurts, colds, the list goes on), which meant no same-day or next-day deadlines. I stuck with deadlines of two days or more at all times, and tried not to take more than one job at a time. I did this for about a month before going further. I’m happy to report that I was able to resume work with my “A” clients at about three months, and the rest around four to five months after my daughter was born. I didn’t lose a single client from going on maternity leave.

Rethink your schedule
My husband works full-time, so finding the time to get work done was tricky. I ended up translating during naps (an hour here, an hour there), and then in the evenings as well, when he or my mother-in-law could take the baby. I also ended up rearranging my workweek so that I worked over the weekend and took days off during the week. Far from being a handicap, this practice actually enabled me to take work other translators often refuse, thereby expanding my earning potential, and when I wanted to take the baby to story time at the library on a Wednesday morning, I didn’t feel like I was skipping out on work.

Beware the Mom-brain
Sleep deprivation is hard, and mom brain is real. You will put your phone in the fridge. You will find that your jeans have been inside out literally all day (how is that even possible?). I am fully aware that I might miss a deadline or make a serious error at any moment, simply because the baby was up five times the night before. I combat this problem by making the most of my productivity software. I set multiple reminders on my phone for each deadline (two days before, one day before, 4 hours before), I use Translation Office 3000 to track my projects and invoicing, and maybe most importantly, I use Google Assistant as my short term memory (e.g. “Ok Google, remind me to check on the term “X” in 10 minutes). Another tactic that has served me well is setting aside my translation for a good period of time, even overnight, and coming back to it with fresh eyes to edit and proofread. This is a good practice at the best of times, but as a new parent, it’s vitally important. A quality assurance tool like Xbench or Verifika may also be useful to check for number errors and consistency issues.

Working from home with an infant is an exercise in flexibility, but then so is parenting. By giving myself the time to recuperate and get to know my little one, starting back to work slowly, and putting plenty of safeguards in place to ensure my clients still benefit from my best work, I’ve been successful. Best of all, I get to be with my daughter for most of the day, and we don’t pay for child care. We are at eight months now, and still going strong!

Faithful vs. Effective Translations

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A Bridge Too Far

Most of the time, when we describe a good translation, we refer to the concept of fidelity. We believe the target text should be true to the source, respecting its style as well as the things it describes. However, at times, translators run the risk of over-egging the pudding, so to speak. The source text is translated so literally that the target text is difficult to comprehend. Thus, the translation’s function is not achieved. It’s times like this we must ask, “do we need faithful or effective translations?”

Let us take for example instructive texts, such as user’s manuals or cookbooks. English cookbooks tend to be more detailed than cookbooks in Spanish, laden with a lot of information that the Spanish reader takes for granted. Given a faithful translation of an English cookbook, a Spanish person would probably feel slighted and stop reading.

Something similar happens to copywriting. Imagine once again how an advertisement written for British audiences would fare in Spain. Most likely, a lot of references would be lost, and so the advertisement would lose its impact. Sales of the product would be less than expected, and the translator would have failed his mission.

Some Theory

In 1978, the linguist, Hans Vermeer, introduced for the first time the theory of skoposSkopos is a word of greek origin (σκοπός) meaning “purpose”. The theory upholds that both translators and interpreters must keep in mind, above all other things, the function of the words they are translating. If, for example, the purpose of a piece is to sell a product, the target language should be adapted to achieve the same impact in the target audience.

This concept is not limited to language; it also comprises the customs, world views and preferences represented in this language.

Perhaps the importance of skopos is most evident in translations of movies, especially when children are the target audience. The purpose of dubbing is making sure children the world over are just as entertained as the children who speak the original language. And while perhaps a complete makeover of the soundtrack is uncalled for, a lot of it -word play, jokes, register- will have to be adjusted. Professionals tasked with translating this kind of material must really have the knack for it.

The Goal

To answer the question that set off this discussion, I dare say that, as a general rule for translations, effectiveness is more important than faithfulness. Of course, we would never change the meaning of the source text, but rather adapt anything that may be lost in translation. Preserving the author’s intent is always our first priority.

Translation in Afrikaans Today

Afrikaans is the third largest first language speaker group in South Africa(1). It is the only language in Africa that takes its name from the continent, indicating its indigenous identity, if not origin and status. This can be seen in the way it has, since its early South African origin, assimilated elements of other South African languages, either by transliterating words or translating everyday expressions.

Afrikaans in translation has come a long way since then.

Today it is not limited to translating classical and contemporary literature in all genres from various local and foreign languages. From mainly English, translation takes place in the fields of general Christian literature, of national and international legal, paralegal and technologically technical texts, and of various written communications with socio-economic impact.

In all fields of textual translation, particularly since finally also gaining official status alongside English in 1925, Afrikaans has gained a rich tradition and expertise. It continues to do so under the new, democratic dispensation in South Africa. Section 6 of the current Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, also provides for parity of esteem among the now 11 official languages, of which Afrikaans is one.

After years of delicate deliberations, Parliament has recently given full effect to this Constitutional provision by approving and publicly launching and publishing the National Language Policy Framework(2) in the 11 official languages. The Framework provides, among others, for the eventual compulsory usage of six official languages for all government publications at national government level(3). This provides an overall boost to the local translation and language development industry.

In practice, the working language in both private and public sector is English. The required subsequent translations to be done in the public sector require enhanced skills and terminology development, especially for the previously disadvantaged indigenous South African languages. This is very much the mandate of the National Language Service (NLS) and the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB). In the process Afrikaans not only maintains its level of development, but also shares its growth.

Textual translation, as an established language activity, gives the non-speakers/readers of any language access to the information and cultural context conveyed by means of that language, promoting general understanding and acceptance. Globalisation and provincialisation are effected simultaneously, be that good or bad. In the diversely multicultural South African society, access to one another’s culture is a powerful enabling tool necessary for nation building. The continued translation into and from Afrikaans contributes to such nation building.

Hence, the experience gained in developing and standardising Afrikaans is, at various institutions, being translated into training interventions. This experience is being made applicable to the general development and standardisation of the previously disadvantaged indigenous South African languages.

In doing so, Afrikaans and the speakers thereof is also benefiting markedly from the formal interaction with the previously disadvantaged indigenous South African languages and its speakers – informal, interpersonal interaction was never absent. The greatest overall national benefit is experienced not so much in the field of non-literary translation, but in the field of literary translation.

The locally and internationally much awarded South African author, Antjie Krog(4), for instance, recently published Met woorde soos met kerse [With Words as with Candles] (2002), a collection of indigenous African poetry “translated” in an unusual, if not novel, way. If direct translation is understood to be translation without third language intervention, one could call the kind of translation activity used by Krog indirect translation.

Poems of cultural and literary importance from the various cultures of the previously disadvantaged indigenous South African languages were identified by literary experts in those languages. Those poems were explained extensively to Krog mainly in a mutual language other than the first language of either party. Krog, a poet laureate herself, subsequently wrote Afrikaans versions for each of those poems. Hence, indirect translation. The Afrikaans text of each poem is published alongside the text in the language of origin.

An example of such indirect translation, from Afrikaans into Xhosa(5), where the mutually common third language was English, is the following:

Afrikaans English Xhosa
Huil nie as Ek struikel nie;

slegs hartseer huil.

Ween ook by my neerslaan nie;

net weemoed ween.

Verdriet is traanloos

in my wêreld wat wankel,

in my hart wat vergaan.

Do not cry when I stumble;

only heartache cries.

Also do not weep when I fall down;

only woe weeps.

Sorrow is tearless

in my world that falters,

in my heart that perishes.

Ungakhali xa ndikhubeka

Yintliziyo ebuhlungu kuphela ekhalayo

Ungakhali xa ndisiwa phantsi

Lusizi kuphela olukhalayo

Ubuhlungu abunazinyembezi

Kwilizwe lam elixengaxengayo

Kwintliziyo yam etshabalalayo


This kind of linguistic access to one another’s culture unfortunately is always limited to a select readership, i.e. adult readers of serious literature. Prescribing translated works of literature and informal texts at school and post-school level increases that readership and enhances understanding of the cultures in which the various texts originated.

By actively, even aggressively so, increasing the readership of translated South African works in South Africa, former President Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation can begin to understand and appreciate Africa’s unique cultural diversity and thereby eventually meaningfully participate in the African Renaissance, as envisaged by President Thabo Mbeki.

(1) According to the latest official statistics (1996), first language speakers of the 11 official languages number as follows: Zulu (9,2 m), Xhosa (7,2 m), Afrikaans (5,8), Northern Sotho (3,7 m), English (3,5 m), Tswana (3,3 m), Southern Sotho (3,1 m), Tsonga (1,8 m), Swati (1,0 m), Venda (0,9 m) and Ndebele (0,6 m).
(2) Pretoria, 18 and 19 Maart 2003.
(3) These are: Afrikaans, English, Tsonga, Venda and, rotationally, one language each from the Nguni and Sotho groups.
(4) Antjie Krog was voted overall winner of the South African Translators’ Institute Award for Outstanding Translation of the Year, 2003.
(5) Writer’s original Afrikaans for Station 8 of South African born German composer Isak Roux’s multilingual mini oratorium, Stations (2002). English for première in Stuttgart, Germany, 19 April 2002 (spoken). Xhosa by Bukelwa Kubheka for première in Bloemfontein, South Africa, 23 August 2002 (sung).
By Johann P. Boshoff. Copyright © 2003. 
Published by, November 2003.